Originally, I was going to call this courgette, cherry tomato and halloumi tart, ‘Leftover Tart’, as I made it from the courgette and tomatoes left over from last week’s veg box delivery, along with the leftover puff pastry that was in the freezer. Then I realised it sounded like a derogatory term for someone’s ex, and this puff pastry tart deserves more respect than that and, while ‘Courgette, Tomato and Halloumi Tart’ doesn’t sound particularly exotic, it is at least descriptive.
It was a night for leftovers, as I’d taken out of the freezer the leftover Chinese takeaway (tofu for me, chilli beef for The Meat Eater) from a few months ago, then decided not to risk my life by eating it, and made the tart instead. The Meat Eater, on the other hand, decided to risk the possibly-food-poisoning-inducing takeaway but I can report that he didn’t die in the night.
I took part in a 78-mile cycling event yesterday and, although I’d bought a Bounce Energy Ball and a Clif Bar to take with me, because I’ve got a bigger cycling event coming up in a couple of weeks and a) shop-bought products are expensive (the Bounce Energy Ball was £1-something and the Clif Bar was a smidge under £2); and b) I wanted to try a variety of different energy bars to see which I liked best, I wanted to make some of my own.
These strawberry and coconut energy bars are based on this Sunshine Bars recipe and they got me happily through 63 miles of cycling. I then had the Clif Bar, felt sick and abandoned the last twenty miles of the ride and got the train home instead. There’s something to be said for the ‘never try anything new on race day’ advice. But if you want something homemade with the right nutrients to get you through a long sporting event (don’t confuse protein bars with energy bars – protein bars contain a high amount of protein and are best after exercise to help repair the muscles, whereas energy bars contain a high amount of carbohydrate to fuel your muscles during exercise), these bars are for you. They taste amazing, too. I used dried strawberries from Urban Fruit because their dried fruit contains fruit and nothing else. I was shocked a few weeks ago after buying a bag of dried cranberries, to find out that cranberries were only about 40% of the ingredients.
Unfortunately, they’re not vegan, as most rice crispies contain Vitamin D, which is made from lanolin – a secretion from sheep skin, found in wool (and now I’ve just typed ‘a secretion from sheep skin’, I feel as sick as if I’d just eaten another Clif Bar) and I also bunged in a bag of Munchy Seeds honey-roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds that I had lying around in the fruit bowl that never contains fruit. However, vegans need not despair – after finding out that all major supermarkets’ own rice crispies contain Vitamin D, I’ve found a vegan-friendly brand: Kallo Organic Wholegrain Breakfast Puffs, that you can get from Ocado or Holland & Barrett.
This frittata must be the freshest thing I’ve made for ages. The eggs were from chickens who roam the grounds of a local house – making them about as free range as it’s possible to be without giving the chickens a railcard, the sweet potato and wild garlic came in my recently reinstated Riverford vegetable box and the mushrooms were grown in our very own dining room from the mushroom growing kit I bought The Meat Eater for his birthday a few weeks ago (I didn’t only buy him a grow-your-own-mushrooms kit; I’m not that tight. He also got a couple of books, a segway experience and some fudge, in case you’re interested. And if you want to know what the books were, one was a Guy Martin memoir and one was a Jeremy Clarkson book. I bought the Jeremy Clarkson book in a charity shop and the woman behind the counter said ‘Oh, Jeremy Clarkson!’, so I quickly said IT’S NOT FOR ME and now I’m scared the lady in the charity shop thinks I’m the type of person who likes Jeremy Clarkson).
Anyway, although I thought my as-fresh-as-fresh-can-be frittata was amazing, The Meat Eater said it wasn’t as good as an omelette. He said it was nice, but if it was an omelette and the sweet potato and mushrooms were on the side, it would be better. He is obviously wrong for many reasons but mostly because:
a frittata isn’t an omelette.
Just because a dish has eggs in it, that doesn’t mean you can call it whatever you feel like, depending on your mood that day. I didn’t call it a frittata because I wanted to make an omelette sound posh; I called it a frittata because it’s a frittata. Not an omelette and not a tortilla – Spanish or otherwise – but a frittata.
The differences are simple:
an omelette is cooked from start to finish on the hob and the eggs are folded over the filling;
a tortilla is also cooked from start to finish on the hob but instead of the eggs being folded over the filling, the filling is cooked inside it, then the tortilla is flipped over to finish cooking the other side;
a frittata starts life on the hob the same way as a tortilla, but is finished in the oven (which probably means my frittata isn’t really a frittata, as I poured the eggs over the filling then put it straight in the oven).
Still, whatever the correct name for my dish is, it was quick and easy to make and incredibly tasty. Unfortunately, there weren’t any leftovers but I’m sure it would be just as good cold the next day for lunch, as it was hot.
Hands up who knows where Bulgaria is? In case you’re like me and your knowledge of Bulgaria begins and ends with a certain Womble called Uncle, then here’s a map for you.
So, when Expedia asked me if I’d take part in their World on a Plate Challenge and cook something from Bulgaria, although I had no idea if Bulgarians ate nothing but fried newt eyes and worm feet, I agreed.
I probably should have checked Google before agreeing to take part in the challenge but I found out that Bulgarian food is practically the same as Turkish food (which isn’t surprising as, as you can see from the map, Turkey is only down the road from Bulgaria) and Turkish food is one of my favourite cuisines. Yay halloumi. Yay hummus. Yay falafel. Yay those spinach and feta triangle pastry things.
One dish I came across frequently while looking for vegetarian Bulgarian inspiration was stuffed aubergines or, as it’s more commonly known in Bulgaria – Imam Bayaldy (and as with hummus, there are various variations on the spelling so don’t moan at me if I didn’t use your preferred spelling).
As this was supposed to be a challenge, I decided I should probably serve the stuffed aubergines with something more adventurous (and more Bulgarian) than plain boiled potatoes and peas, so I accompanied the stuffed aubergines with Bulgarian potatoes au gratin (which Google informs me is also called ‘ogreten’ which sounds more Bulgarian than ‘au gratin’ which sounds distinctly French to me and, according to my map, France is nowhere near Bulgaria).
Unfortunately, The Meat Eater wasn’t keen on either of these dishes and found them a bit bland. I reckon this was because he’d caught the lurgy I’d had recently, because I found the potatoes creamy and tangy, and the stuffed aubergines were – well, stuffed aubergines, which are always nice, but I’ll admit they could have been tastier.
You can find the original recipe for the Bulgarian stuffed aubergines here and the original recipe for the Bulgarian potatoes au gratin here. As usual, the recipes below are my adaptations, using ingredients I have to hand/can find in the supermarket and simplified to suit my cooking methods/laziness.
As you know, I’m not a great cake or cookie person (actually, that’s a lie – I love cookies, I just don’t like making them because then I see exactly what goes into them and then I’m thinking HOW MANY CALORIES?)
But then Discount Supplements asked me to make something healthy for Christmas, using one of their products. They gave me a list of recipes to choose from and I chose the vegan gingerbread men because a) it looked the easiest; and b) I fancied playing with men-shaped cookie cutters.
I didn’t quite follow the provided recipe (and when I say ‘quite’, I mean ‘disregarded 99% of it’) so this recipe is how I made the gingerbread men, using the ingredients I had available (e.g. I used applesauce as an egg replacer instead of a flax egg, wholemeal flour instead of gluten-free flour and Golden Syrup instead of molasses).
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a gingerbread man before (not sure I’ve had a ginger man before – bread or otherwise, actually, but let’s not go there, eh?) so I don’t know if these are how they’re supposed to be, but if gingerbread men are supposed to be crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, then I’m the boss at making gingerbread men.
Preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon into a food processor. Add the butter and blend until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
Beat the applesauce, Golden Syrup and almond butter together, add to the food processor and pulse until the mixture clumps together. Tip the dough out and knead until smooth. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Lightly flour a chopping board or worktop and roll out the dough to a thickness of about 0.5cm.
Using cookie cutters, cut out the gingerbread men shapes and place on the baking tray, leaving a gap between them.
Bake for about 13 minutes, or until a light golden-brown.
Leave on the tray for 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.
Either use a skewer to make eyes and buttons, or decorate with icing.
Chickpea flour (also known as gram flour) is so versatile. It can be used instead of eggs in omelettes, pancakes, quiches and loads of other things. My latest favourite way to use it is to make pancakes – they’re just as quick and easy to make as their eggy equivalents, but with the added bonus of it being vegan and therefore cruelty-free (and wheat- and gluten-free if you need to avoid those). What I mostly love about pancakes though is that they’re just a pancake-based pizza – choose your toppings just as you would a pizza and throw them on the top of the pancake at the end of cooking.
In the photo is a chickpea flour pancake I made the other day with spinach, mushrooms, olives, sundried tomatoes, garlic and pine nuts.
You should be able to find chickpea flour in your local supermarket (just bear in mind it might say gram flour on the packet) but if not, then any Indian/international store should have it.
I generally don’t plan what goes into my smoothies – as I mentioned in my Nutribullet review the other day, it doesn’t seem to matter what combination of fruit you add, it always turns out delicious.
These two smoothies were no exception – I randomly chucked in whatever fruit I could find in the fridge and freezer and out of the Nutribullet came fresh, creamy smoothies. You can see what they were made with in the captions.
Another thick and creamy soup using cashews and soya milk – this time, the always popular leek and potato. I don’t know what it is, but my leek and potato soup never comes out as nice as the ones in the tins, but it’s probably the cream and additives and other unhealthy stuff, but I’m sure I’ll make the perfect vegan leek and potato soup one day – I’ll just have to keep experimenting.
Again, as with the vegan cream of mushroom soup I made the other day, I started this soup off in the frying pan, and finished it in the soup maker. If you haven’t got a soup maker, just add the stock and seasoning to the pan, simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked, leave the milk out until the end, then blend.